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Open Sesame: Important Questions to Ask about Open Source Technology

Open Source SoftwareSoftware development has gone public with the introduction of open source technology. In a previous post, I identified investing in open source technology as one way for nonprofits to stretch their technology budgets.  Here I would like to draw your attention to critical issues you should consider determine if open source technology is the appropriate choice for your organization. In a recent article for The Nonprofit Times, Jay Leslie poses the question, “Is open source right for your organization?” He outlines both the pros and cons of nonprofit organizations using open source software. Drawing on Leslie’s insights, I have highlighted some important questions you should ask before moving forward with implementing open source technology. Do you have the in-house expertise to deploy the software? Leslie writes, “Some open source software packages are easy to get started with, but others expect you to have someone technically savvy to get them up and running.” How much customization do you need? Leslie notes, “For organizations looking to build a customized solution on an existing platform of functionality and features, the lack of restrictions on modification also makes open source software attractive.” Are you prepared to incur costs for training? Leslie offers the example of switching from an off-the-shelf operating system like Windows to an open source one like Linux: “Ease of use has also kept Linux from taking a larger market share. Microsoft and Apple both respond to market demand for ‘approachable’ operating systems, and switching an organization to Linux from Windows or OS X could require significant investments in training. Such costs could erase any savings earned by running a ‘free’ operating system.” Do you work collaboratively with other organizations to produce documents? Leslie asserts, “While you may be able to open an extensively formatted Microsoft Word document in OpenOffice or LibreOffice, trying to edit documents collaboratively between the two systems can cause more difficulty. This can be a serious problem if your organization produces documents collaboratively with other organizations that likely use Microsoft Office.” What customer relationship and/or content management systems are you currently using? On the positive side, Leslie notes, “open source CRM and CMS Platform Solutions can be just as friendly as their commercial counterparts. If ease of use of a particular function needs improvement, source code availability means a programmer could help an organization tailor that function to better fit its needs.” On the other hand, he cautions that “while most open source CRMs and CMSs are free to acquire,” nonprofits should “expect implementation costs similar or higher than what you will find among commercial options. You should also factor in ongoing consulting costs for support and maintenance.” To determine if open source is right for your organization, Leslie recommends that you “consider all your criteria, and prioritize them. Weigh your needs against compatibility and interoperability, ease of use, availability of support, and all associated costs.” And as with the evaluation of any technology tool, I would agree with his assertion that you should “make your decision based on how well a given solution fits your needs—not whether that solution is open source.” Original Article: Is Open Source Right For Your Organization
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Reflections on DreamForce 2013: Upward Mobility

dreamforce I left this year’s conference very excited about the new mobile app capabilities that Salesforce has just released for its users. The release of Salesforce1 truly illustrates the power of the Salesforce platform and connecting to customers. You no longer need to be a mobile expert to create powerful mobile apps for your members and/or staff. Designed to accelerate the development and deployment of apps, the new Salesforce1 platform will open up new possibilities for associations. When you create apps on Salesforce, your members will have the ability to access information on any mobile device at any time. Perhaps, this means updating member profiles on the go or renewing memberships from a mobile device. Fonteva For Associations users can already do this via our member portal, which is mobile responsive. The additional value will be the ability for staff users to go in and add or search members from any device as well as view reports and dashboards. Also, for our customers, all staff users can easily get Fonteva For Associations on any device. If a staff member has administrative privileges, he or she can activate them via cell phone. Think of the potential for increasing productivity and serving members better. This latest release from Salesforce demonstrates how being on the right platform can bring value to your organization without your having to manage costly upgrades. In addition, as writer Doug Henschen observes in his recent commentary for InformationWeek, the speed with which the platform became available is unprecedented: It’s refreshing that Salesforce1 is shipping today in the form of the new mobile app and admin apps available in the Apple and Android app stores. All those new APIs are also accessible to developers today, providing granular access to Salesforce services. In recent years there has been a gap of a year or more between Dreamforce announcements and product availability. At the same time, Henschen expresses some skepticism about the new platform because it does not yet fully eliminate what he calls “technology differences behind the scenes at Salesforce.” He cites and Heroku as an example of the company’s ongoing efforts to bring “different worlds together.” Henschen goes on to characterize Salesforce1 as a “platform in progress.” While I think this view is reasonable, I would place most of the emphasis on the tremendous progress that’s been made— and will continue to be made­—in in developing and deploying advanced mobile apps. If you look at the big picture, things are definitely moving onward and upward.
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A Victory in Video: 8 Key Questions for Success

imagesWith the advent of YouTube, there are videos online providing how-to instructions for almost any task from making cakes to opening bank accounts. In tune with this trend, some associations have started using video to provide members with basic instructions on how to access important member benefits. Our client the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy is a case in point.  Before NASBA began using Fonteva For Associations, it was difficult for its members to apply for services and pay for them. With the introduction of its member portal, NASBA members can self-serve. The association’s member portal allows members to register for events, renew memberships, track donations and review committee activities. All of this is great only if members take advantage of the portal. To promote its capabilities, NASBA created a short, four-minute video highlighting the portal’s main features and providing basic instructions on how to log-in and get started with using the portal. We like this video because it’s brief but informative. The ability to provide members with community and increased efficiency is one of the most sought after features of Fonteva For Associations. However, even the best technology doesn’t fully benefit your association and its members if you take a build-it-and-they-will-come approach to implementing it. Used effectively, video is one tool available to you for promoting online access to your association’s products and services. Here are eight key questions to ask before making your video:
  1. What do you want to happen when people finish watching your video?
  2. What does this audience care about and how does your product or service relate to those concerns?
  3. What specific problem am I trying to solve, and how do I communicate the solution to that problem?
  4. How are you going to get people to watch your video?
  5. What is the idea/concept for this video?
  6. What are the details that need to be included in the video?
  7. How long do you need to get to the point of your video?
  8. Whose input/perspective would really be of value in the planning process?
These questions focus primarily on developing content for effective videos. Certainly, you’ll have to address production and budgetary concerns as well, but as NASBA discovered, video can definitely be worth the investment if it helps you score big with members. Source: “Video Pre-Production Planning Checklist: 11Steps to a Successful Project”
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Stormy Weather?

change1“Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky. Stormy weather… Keeps raining all of the time.” —David A. Bell This well-known musical refrain might resonate all too well if you’ve had difficulty implementing cloud initiatives in your organization. If your organization can’t seem to move forward with deploying these useful tools, it’s likely not the technology that’s the problem, but the technicalities you face internally in terms of people, processes, and policies. A new study by 451’s research service The InfoPro found that 83 percent of respondents are facing significant “roadblocks to deploying their cloud initiatives.” Further, 68 percent of respondents cited non-IT related road blocks as their major problems. People, processes and policy seem to be the primary barriers to successful deployment of cloud initiatives. In general people resist change. However, you can overcome these road blocks. New vs. Old
  • Spend time understanding your current processes and think about how these process and policies should be modified to get maximum value from the new system.
  • Old processes and policies created to accommodate old technology are frequently a barrier.
  • Processes can be difficult to change, but the organization needs to understand with new technology comes new (and hopefully better) processes.
Pro vs. Con
  • Identify both the supporters and detractors of a new implementation and have a strategy for addressing each group.
  • Turn the supporter into an evangelist and neutralize the detractors by spending extra time and care addressing their concerns.
  • In some cases, it may be necessary to bring in senior leadership to address a "people" issue early in the process.
To have clear skies ahead and successfully deploy cloud initiatives, you’ll have to address these non-IT related issues.
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Top 3 Tips to Stretch Your Non-Profit Technology Budget

A white computer mouse and cord on a stack of US dollar billsKeeping your non-profit organization’s technology infrastructure up and running shouldn’t have to cause hardship for your core programs.  There are a number of strategies to stretch your technology budget—here are three important suggestions:

1. Invest in Technology that’s Open Source or with a Large Partner Network

“Open source” technology refers to software in which the source code is available to the public, allowing programmers at large to build and improve upon the code and share these changes within the community.  The detailed benefits of open source technology are beyond our scope here, but it allows for many competitors in the market and therefore, better products at a better price.  In addition, technology incorporating a large partner network allows for more choice and competitive pricing among service providers.  In a nutshell, with open source and a large partner network, you have more products and vendors to choose from, at a lower cost.

2. Avoid Software that Requires Frequent Upgrades or Expensive Support Contracts

Traditional “old-school” technology and software required periodic and complicated upgrades, and corresponding extensive (and expensive!) support.  Our advice is to keep your non-profit’s major business systems in the cloud, where costs for upgrades and support are distributed across many customers for economies of scale.  In addition, cloud upgrades are often seamless and less cumbersome.

3. Invest in IT Training for Your Staff

Make sure your staff is well trained in the technology you choose, so they can be as self-sufficient as possible, and keep simple customization and fixes in-house.   By taking control both literally and figuratively, your technology budget doesn’t have to usurp or eclipse the resources that should be going to the work dedicated to your cause. At Fonteva, we highly recommend Salesforce training for at least one member of staff.  A solid understanding of Salesforce ensures a smoother implementation and allows staff to perform many technical tasks in-house.  Time and money invested in training at the outset generates ongoing returns in all aspects of your organization—for technology, operations and more.
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